“Henry Ford once said, ‘Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.’ This could not be truer of the importance of the work of coalitions,” said Candice Carter, GRASP (Gloucester Regional Addictive Substance Prevention) Coalition Coordinator.
Recently, the New Jersey-based coalition had their First Annual Youth Athletic Conference entitled, “POINTS PENALTIES PILLS.” This conference addressed the opioid epidemic and its effects on student athletes. It was imperative to have representatives from every high school in Gloucester County attend this event and in an effort to accomplish this, the coalition invited athletic directors, athletic trainers, school personnel, and parents/guardians in Gloucester County. With the collaboration of the superintendent’s office and New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), the coalition’s efforts were successful and furthermore, both the executive county superintendent and the President of NJSIAA participated in the event.
“This initiative has recently become a part of a statewide effort to raise awareness of opioid abuse and the effects it has on student athletes,” said Carter. “Through federal funding, each county in the state of New Jersey will put together a Youth Athletic Conference. GRASP is proud to say that we were at the forefront and the first to hold a conference.”
In the fall of 2017, GRASP began implementing “subcommittees,” encompassing three areas of focus: underage drinking, marijuana/tobacco, and Rx/heroin. The decision to create these subcommittees was based on the need for the coalition to have a designated time to meet, discuss and implement ideas specific to the focus areas. As a result of these meetings, the Rx/heroin committee generated the idea to have a Youth Athletic Conference. With the opioid crisis effecting youth at an astounding rate, the committee recognized the importance of addressing this issue.
Ultimately, the goal of “POINTS PENALTIES PILLS” was to raise community awareness and educate school personnel who have a vested interest in their athletes. The conference was a direct result of the hard work and dedication put forth by our prescription and heroin subcommittee, which consists of some of the most valuable and pertinent community partners. They continually volunteer their time and efforts to formulate ideas and initiatives for our community. “This demonstrates the definition of who we are and reflects our mission as a coalition: working to ultimately prevent the use of addictive substances through our community partnerships,” said Carter.
The coalition received positive feedback from the school personnel and community members who either attended or heard about the event through several media outlets. After the conference, athletic directors and coaches reached out to the coalition, to say thank you and express their gratitude for the education – for many it was their first in-depth training. The conference covered the basics of substance abuse, signs and symptoms of prescription abuse, and provided a multitude of resources to utilize in the future.
“Know who your community partners are and make sure they have a seat at the table. This is key to any coalitions’ success. You can have the best intentions and want to do it all, but you must address prevention based on the community needs and involve those partners for the best outcome,” said Carter. “Always remember the mission of your coalition and use that as the guide to help you get the work done. When you hit a bump in the road, always refer to your mission, and it will help you to get back on track and push forward.”